Gilles’s Wife (La Femme de Gilles) (2004)
Director: Frédéric Fonteyne
This beautifully photographed period piece is set in a small industrial community in 1930s France. The general plot here is that a brutish factory worker is vaguely bored with his domestic existence. He has a dutiful wife and a couple of kids, but something makes him pine for more. He sees his opportunity with his wife’s tartish sister. The two of them engage in a sexual fling under the nose of his wife, who (of course) finds out about the affair pretty quickly.
But being pregnant and with kids to take care of, she finds her options limited. At first she hopes it will burn itself out quickly. When this doesn’t happen, she actually tries to help her husband overcome his selfish, disrespectful conduct. Some things a man just does not do, and having sexual relations with your wife’s sister is one of them. The whole situation is very sad; I was disgusted by this guy’s attitude and behavior. But the bigger problem with this movie is how all of this drama plays itself out.
I found the ending both depressing and unrealistic. Despite this, I’m going to recommend this movie for these reasons: (1) the cinematography is extremely well done; and (2) the magnetic performance of Emmanuelle Devos carries the film. She plays the aggrieved wife; her face and mannerisms are able to convey an air of both innocence and menace that is difficult to describe. If you’ve seen her role in the great 2005 film La Moustache, you’ll know what I mean.
Director: Fernando Frias
A young Albanian model arrives in Mexico City looking for work. She flits around from here to there, enjoying a frivolous, care-free life, with everything that entails. (We’re supposed to call this “empowerment”). Along the way, she plays various thirsty guys off against each other. She seems to fall for one reticent loner who cleans her trailer, but he is bashful and ambivalent. The chemistry between the two is forced and disingenuous. Worse still, none of the people in this movie have anything interesting or sympathetic about their personalities.
Not much of importance happens in this movie, which looks like it was made by a film student who had not quite found a plot. The reality is that no amount of “slice of life” screen time can compensate for the lack of a definable plot, or characters that we care about. Without some story, you have nothing.
In The Shadow Of Iris (2016)
Director: Jalil Lespert
This is the best of the three films reviewed this week. This is old-school noir filmmaking in a modern setting. Romain Duris (who I will always associate with the classic The Beat That My Heart Skipped) delivers his usual dose of smoldering screen intensity. The plot: a rich financier’s wife is apparently “kidnapped” by an auto mechanic. We are soon told that the wife has staged the crime in order (apparently) to get away from her douchebag husband. But once things get underway, the auto mechanic begins to suspect that he himself may be the one taken for a ride.
This is a throwback to the old noir films of the 1940s, where everyone is scheming to stab the other character in the back. We don’t really know who is going to get caught in whose web until the very end, and this is what make this one worth watching. Some critics have been rather unkind with this one, finding fault with various plot devices that should be “obvious” to any character with a brain. Maybe yes, maybe no. I think that’s beside the point. Enjoy the great scenes of Paris, the stylish clothing, and the devious double-crosses.
Sometimes audiences just expect too much.
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